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Posts Tagged ‘herbs’

Basil Forever!

You Can Grow That!

Basil plant abandoned at a trade show

Among the things left by a vendor packing up after a hort industry trade show was a modest basil plant that I set under lights on my ping-pong table.

I attended a horticulture industry conference in January of this year. When the conference ended, vendors packed up their valuables and left. Some vendors left things behind.

Apparently, when your company produces hundreds of thousands of seedlings for garden centers all over the country, it’s not cost-effective to pack up a few dozen after a trade show and take them back to headquarters.

So, I scored some edible plant seedlings: two rosemary plants, three sage plants, and a basil plant.

Herb seedlings in winter

It’s not convenient to acquire seedlings in January in central Pennsylvania. Last winter was particularly cold, and soil was hard frozen. Without a jackhammer, I couldn’t plant the seedlings outside. And anyway, basil dies when the temperature drops to 32F degrees; in central PA, basil is an annual.

Basil plant and friends on the ping-pong table

Ping-pong never caught on with my kids, and my wife and I haven’t played in years. To-boot, the only south-facing window in my basement illuminates the ping-pong table; it’s a natural place to winter over plants. I hang four-foot-long shop lights from the suspended ceiling to drive 850spectrum fluorescent tubes.

I had some stuff under lights on the ping-pong table—a whole bunch of elephant ears I’d peeled apart from the original corm I’d planted in the spring. It was a simple matter to slip the herbs in among them.

Every now and then I’d harvest a few leaves from the basil plant, and it did OK under lights. Finally, in June I planted the very mature seedling in my herb garden. It didn’t do well, but it grew and between it and a stand of purple basil plants, there was plenty to season salads and sauces. Then winter loomed.

When weather forecasts threatened frost, I cut several stems from the basil plant and stood them in water as you would cut flowers. Years ago I’d done this to hold some sprigs over a few weeks for cooking and was impressed at how easily they’d sprouted roots. This time, roots were my intent.

Basil (and lavender) in the herb garden

The basil wasn’t particularly eye-catching in my garden this summer, so I never once focused my camera on it. However, in several photos, the basil plant provided delightful contrast for the lavender.

Basil forever

The cuttings rooted quickly, and I moved them into flower pots after about four weeks. They’re just now fully acclimated to living in soil, and I’m seeing signs of new growth.

I’ve never grown herbs indoors specifically for cooking. When I have grown them, it’s been as starts for spring planting. This year, however, my basil cuttings are (nearly) entirely about seasoning. Under intense lights, I expect they’ll grow enough to flavor many meals.

I’ll harvest lightly so the cuttings remain strong, and I’ll plant the basil out next June. This will become a rhythm in my gardening year: Set the basil plants in the garden, harvest as-needed, root cuttings in autumn and pot them up, grow them under intense light, harvest modestly through winter, repeat.

It’s easy. You want basil for life? You can grow that.

Basil cuttings root easily in water

Basil is one of the easiest food plants to grow from cuttings. About three weeks in water was enough to produce healthy roots on a tiny sprig.

Freshly-rooted basil seedling under lights

I wonder how a well-managed five-year-old basil plant looks in the landscape. Similarly, I wonder whether a rooted cutting counts as a new plant, or just more of the original. This seedling started as a cutting from my herb garden and should provide seasoning for at least a few meals through the winter.

This link leads to You Can Grow That posts by other garden bloggers.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – You Can Grow That: Basil Forever

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Marjoram in Bloom and Pollinators

Pair of pollinators on marjoram

It’s hard for a single photograph to do justice to the pollinator population in my marjoram. This one reveals two revelers: a honeybee and a fritillary butterfly—probably a Meadow Fritillary, but what I know about fritillaries I learned in the last five minutes using Google and The Butterfly Site.

Two years ago, marjoram got its own place in my garden and last year it found a place in my heart. I wrote about it here. The stalks flowered for about two months and attracted pollinators more than any other plant. It’s back!

My marjoram busted out blossoms last week while I was out of town. Today, after morning rain, sun illuminated the herb garden. Pollinating insects flitted about the entire planting bed, but the biggest concentration was on the marjoram flowers.

Nearby, oregano, lavender, and mint plants all sported blossoms and each drew its own complement of insects. In fact, the peppermint forest’s visitors may have rivaled those of the marjoram, but most of them were flies… probably beneficial, but far too reminiscent of house flies.

Honey bee on marjoram

My marjoram blossoms are pink and delicate, and they attract an enormous number of honey bees.

Marjoram is naturally unruly; the stems grow tall and slender and the weight of the blossoms bend them toward the ground. Rooted in a three-foot circle, the plants can drape themselves over a 10 foot diameter circle of real estate. If that bothers you, you can use hoop trellises to hold them upright.

Whether you let the stems sprawl, or you force them vertical, you should grow marjoram. The leaves and blossoms are excellent seasoning for many foods, and the blossoms may very well become the center of activity for thousands of pollinators in your garden.

Meadow Fritillary butterfly-probably-on marjoram

A butterfly—probably a meadow fritillary—spreads its wings in my marjoram patch. The marjoram is by far the liveliest place in my yard while herbs are abloom.

 

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More Mint Madness!

Pot-bound mint plant with rhizome

A mint plant I bought at a grocery store to flavor a Turkish meal became pot bound in the nearly two months before I was ready to work in my garden. The thick white band running around the root ball is a rhizome that would be happy growing through a planting bed or lawn – perhaps seven feet or farther in a single season!

Seems I abuse mint in print quite a bit. My last blog post—Community Garden Ithaca—included complaints about people planting mint in the soil of community gardens. That post linked to an earlier one warning kitchen gardeners to protect their plots against mint. I just had an experience that seriously illuminates the mint menace.

In the past two months I cooked two Turkish recipes that called for mint. Holding no illusions that dried mint would taste authentic, I splurged and bought live mint at the grocery store. For each meal I bought a well-leafed plant in a 2-inch pot.

After cutting about half the foliage from a pot, I set the plant among my gardening stuff on the porch figuring to set it in my garden some time this spring. Even without added nutrition—I haven’t given them plant food—the plants have continued to put out new growth. Unfortunately, the pots dry out quickly.

As I packed up for yet another trip to Ithaca, I decided not to burden my wife with mint-watering duties. So, I potted up each plant into its own milk jug planter which I figure will hold moisture for four or five days. What I found behind the walls of the 2-inch pots should put a chill in every kitchen gardener. The photos tell the story.

Mint plant factory

You can clearly see four baby mint plants emerging from the rhizome and if you squint you might spot two others. As a mint rhizome extends through your planting beds and your lawn beneath the soil, it produces a new plant every inch or so. With no effort on your part, you can have an enormous mint patch in just one or two seasons. It is folly to plant mint in the ground on your property unless all you want to grow is mint. My grocery store plants will eventually end up in circular containment rings with deep root barriers—the same setup I’ve used for oregano, marjoram, and sunchokes. By the way: Don’t let mint plants hang over the sides of containers so their stems touch soil. Mint stems happily produce new roots when you give them a chance.

 
Small Kitchen Garden blog

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Oregano? You Can Grow That!

oregano in my small kitchen garden

After a few years of growth in the corner of my small kitchen garden, an oregano seedling had expanded into a six-foot diameter circle that I had to cut back each season in favor of planting annual vegetables.

More and more of us want to grow food, but for many, the idea is a bit intimidating. Just to get started you may need to prepare space in your yard or acquire containers for your deck or patio. Then there’s the question of what to grow? Starting with a finicky, hard-to-grow plant might lead to discouragement.

How about oregano? Sure, you’re not likely to make a meal out of this pungent herb, but you could use it to flavor all kinds of foods. And, for someone just starting out, there are few plants as certain to succeed as this one.

Oregano Hardiness

Without cover, oregano will survive winter down to hardiness zone 5. While you can start it from seeds, you’ll almost guarantee success if you buy oregano seedlings from a nursery or garden center.

biblical rain soaks my rhubarb

Biblical rains in 2011 drowned many of my annual vegetables along with the rhubarb and the oregano. It was saddening to see the entire herb patch wither into soggy twigs.

You might discover that oregano grows quickly and spreads aggressively. To give you some idea, take a look at the first photo in this post. It features a large green blob that covers a six-foot diameter space in the corner of my kitchen garden. That blob started as an oregano seedling I bought through a school fundraising event. Four or five years passed from when I planted the seedling to when I created the photo, and I cut the oregano back several times in that time span.

Oregano Tenaciousness

Last year it rained in central Pennsylvania. I’m talking about rain of near biblical proportions. There was standing water in my garden for weeks, and it was a struggle to get annuals such as tomatoes, squash, corn, and beans to produce. All my rhubarb plants drown, and by winter all that remained of that big blob of oregano was a tangle of brown, soggy twigs.

oregano survivor

From the rotting twigs of my dead oregano monster, this lone branch sprouted leaves in the spring of 2012. I transplanted it into the new herb bed I’d created at the end of 2011.

Still, this spring, leaves emerged from one of the dead-looking oregano branches. Wanting to add soil so flooding would be less likely in future wet seasons, I dug up that leafy sprig of oregano, held it for a few months in a nursery pot, and then planted it in a newly-prepared herb garden. To help the oregano behave, I set it inside of a root barrier (I’ve come to respect its enthusiasm to conquer).

As the photos show, in just three months the herb has nearly filled its confinement ring. I’ve harvested repeated through those months to flavor tomato sauces and meat marinades.

Do I think oregano is a great choice for someone starting their first kitchen garden? Yeah. You can grow that!

from seedling to ground cover in three months

After three months, my oregano survivor spread throughout the root-containment ring in which I planted it.

rooted oregano sprig

Here’s why oregano is so capable of subjugating whole patches of a garden. The sprig in the photo was headed toward a sauce pan when I noticed roots emerging from the main stem. The sprig had not been in contact with soil but obviously it wanted to be. You can grow that!

Find more posts celebrating what you can grow at You Can Grow That!

 

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Decorate Your Kitchen Garden with Basil in Containers


In 2011, I planted three 6-inch flower pots with two colors of basil. These remained on my deck rail for the season, providing flavoring for the too-few tomato salads I prepared until blight wiped out my tomato patch.

Basil is an essential herb in my small kitchen garden. Historically, I’ve started basil seeds when I set tomato seedlings in my planting bed. My motivation: the basil plants mature at just the right speed to be ready when the first tomatoes ripen.

If you followed Your Small Kitchen Garden blog in 2011, you might recall that in nearly every post I whined about water. The rain last year was devastating, and even until mid winter local basements were flooding because the water table had not receded. Despite my whining, the season had some high points one of which was my experience with basil in flower pots.

Decorative Basil on the Deck

Basil sprouts are among the most attractive sprouts in my small kitchen garden each year. I especially loved watching the purple basil get started.

I made the mistake last year of not buying basil seeds until I was planting tomatoes. By then, I couldn’t find Genovese or its ilk in local stores. I did find lemon basil seeds as well as a variety of purple basil.

With all the rain, I figured to control moisture most effectively by planting in flower pots. Then, inspired by ornamental plantings of my friends, I decided to mix the lemon basil and purple basil seeds and create planters that would be decorative as well as productive.

Lessons Learned from Decorative Basil Pots

I placed each seed in the pots deliberately to create patterns. In one pot, I laid a circle of purple around a green center. In two others, it was a green circle around a purple center (there were frustratingly few purple basil seeds).

By far my favorite arrangement was the green center with a purple border, but I have reservations:

Lemon basil is a very tall plant. Well-nourished, it can grow to about 36 inches. The purple basil plants were modest growers. A tall one might have reached 12 to 18 inches. The colors looked great together, but the lemon basil plants overwhelmed the flower pots and cutting them back severely only resulted in further aggressive growth.

I’ll be shopping for basil seeds soon for 2012, and I’ll look for purple and green varieties whose growth habits are very similar to each other. I’ll probably plant a few more pots than I did last year; they look terrific on the deck, and it’s nearly impossible to grow too much basil.

The purple border around a green center is a striking display in many ornamental beds. It also looks great with edibles. I’ll give a little more thought in coming years to the colors and textures of my food plants when I plan what’s going to grow on my deck.

 

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Small Kitchen Garden Bloom Day, July 2011

This onion barely qualifies as “in bloom” on this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. A few petals remain, and I assume the white bud-looking things are future onion seeds. If these grow anything like wild onions, I expect to see sprouts emerge all over this ball within a month or so… assuming I can continue to work around it—at this point, it’s kind of in the way in my small kitchen garden.

It’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and my Small Kitchen Garden actually has something to offer! My vegetables are a few weeks behind compared to past years, but things are finally shaping up. (Understand that I had virtually no spring crops this season because my planting bed was underwater until the end of MAY.) Tomatoes have formed (seedlings went into the garden in early June) and I’m projecting the first will ripen in mid August… which is just a bit later than usual.

Peppers are the hold outs this year. While my bell pepper plants are lush and growing, my jalapeno, banana pepper, and poblano plants have stood for weeks with no apparent growth. Now that the soil is seasonably dry, I hope these struggling plants finally get it in gear.

For long-time readers of Your Small Kitchen Garden, the cilantro and dill pairing should seem familiar; it has starred in many a Bloom Day post. The dill (right) is poised to blossom, while the cilantro (left) is about to produce coriander—seeds from the cilantro plant are, in and of themselves, a popular seasoning.

My herb bed helped me through the wet spring; it was never as wet at the main planting bed so I was able to start annuals alongside the perennials I’d set in in the fall. The purple flowers—clearly in bloom—are on a volunteer that I recognized when it first sprouted; it had snuck in from my wife’s ornamental plantings. The modest blossoms stand out against the lush greens of sage, cilantro, dill, and basil.

Mint blossoms! I don’t know what type of mint it is… it started growing two years ago in a planter containing tarragon plants. I’m OK with it as long as it stays in the container. But if it escapes, I will almost certainly eradicate it; mint is aggressive about colonizing planting beds.

The broccoli was a joke this year. Because of rain, I left seedlings in their starting pots about a month too long. When I finally set them in the garden, the soil was too wet—and then it rained. When the plants finally sent up florets, each would have filled about a tablespoon. The side shoots have been even less impressive. I’ve pulled all but three of the plants, and a rabbit recently pruned two of them. Climbing beans are now emerging from the decimated broccoli area. Pretty yellow flowers will not save the last broccoli plants from a move to the compost heap.

Happiness is a tomato blossom presaging the coming harvest. (I said “presaging” because it has “sage” in it.) I’m growing 10 varieties of tomatoes this year if you don’t count the Cherokee Purples that have sprung up in the compost heap.

There seems always to be at least one interloper at my Bloom Day photo shoots. Here, a fly-looking thingy tries to steal the spotlight from a bell pepper flower. I so hope my peppers have enough growing season remaining to turn red; I’d like to make a batch of red pepper relish using only peppers from my garden.

Yep: weed. At least that’s what my wife says. I think it looks like a morning glory, but my wife assures me it’s not. Still… it really wants to be a morning glory. I suppose I should believe my wife given that these things grow as abundantly as purslane wherever we work the soil.

That’s a cosmos about to burst into song in my vegetable garden. It irks me just a little to have been planting flowers, but I planted corn this year (which I haven’t done since I was a kid). I mentioned one week during #gardenchat (a weekly gathering on Twitter of anyone wishing to discuss gardening) that I was going to plant corn, and someone assured me that if I plant cosmos with it corn ear worms will not visit my crop. I hope this wasn’t just a mean trick to get me to plant flowers… We shall see.

 

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Finally there’s Soil in my Small Kitchen Garden

When your broccoli seedlings remain in their very limited planter about a month too long, they might produce disappointing florets. This tablespoon-sized floret represents what each of my plants produced about three weeks after I finally set them in the garden. It didn’t help that I set the seedlings in soil that was nearly mud… or that several days of subsequent rain kept the roots far too wet. Perhaps as things dry out the plants will send up enough side shoots to make a decent meal.

Since planting season started some three months ago, I’ve reported again and again that there is no soil in my small kitchen garden. That’s right: where, every growing season for the past sixteen years there has been soil, this growing season nature replaced my soil with mud.

My Earliest Starts

I managed to plant cauliflower and broccoli three weeks ago while the mud was a bit dry (as mud goes). Sadly, the plants had been pot bound long enough that they were flimsy… and further rains stressed the plants once they were in the ground.

For the first time ever, I saw a rabbit chewing on one of my vegetable plants. In 17 years of kitchen gardening in Lewisburg, I’ve had rabbits nest in my garden and I’ve watched many of them feed on my weeds. This year the rabbits decided that broccoli and cauliflower taste good. I’ve since mended my garden fence.

Within ten days of getting their roots in the ground, my broccoli plants sent up center stalks bursting with florets… tiny florets any one of which would make a single forkful on a dinner plate. Had I harvested from ten plants, I’d have gotten a single serving of broccoli.

Then a rabbit decided that brassicas taste better than native plants and had a few meals in the mud.

My Small Kitchen Garden is Coming On!

There have been a few positives about this growing season:

  • I planted all the lettuce seedlings in planters on my deck and, though the lettuce is a tad bitter because of early heat, we’re eating fresh salads pretty reliably.
  • I started artichokes indoors. When I planted the brassicas, I also set five artichoke seedlings in the garden. Actually, I set three in a new bed near my rhubarb, one in the back of the new herb bed, and two in a two-gallon planter on the deck. One of the plants has already put out a choke.
  • Cilantro I seeded in part of the new herb bed is coming on strong. I’ll do a second planting in a week or so.
  • The volunteer dill seedlings I moved from my main planting bed into the herb garden are filling out nicely.
  • Thyme and tarragon I started from seed last year and set in the herb garden in the fall are growing strong. I may want to add more thyme plants this season.
  • The sage bushes I moved from an old half-barrel planter into the new herb bed in the fall have filled out and may soon need some serious pruning.
  • The mud is gone, replaced by soil. I’ve planted 55 tomato seedlings in the main planting bed and more than 24 chili pepper seedlings of four varieties.

It’s two months later than in past years, but my small kitchen garden is finally on its way!

I’d never grown lettuce in containers, but when my raised planting bed remained mud for the first two months of the growing season, I realized I’d have no homegrown lettuce if I didn’t try something new. We’ve had several garden salads but it has been very hot. Chances are the lettuce will bolt soon; I’ll probably plant again in August and hope to have plenty of fresh salads well into November.

 

Not my best photographic work, but clearly a choke has formed in my small kitchen garden. I love photos I’ve seen of artichoke plants, so I decided to grow some this year. I hope I see more food on them, but I’ll be happy if the plants mature and look at least vaguely like the ones I’ve seen on other blogs.

 

Yes, the soil is dry and weeds abound, but the dill seedlings I rescued from my main planting bed are thriving in my new herb bed. Cilantro I direct-seeded grows at the left front of the photo, and sage grows at the rear of the photo. Out of sight at the far end of the bed, thyme and tarragon plants are growing very nicely.

 

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Cilantro and Dill in my Small Kitchen Garden

Looking north, over the margin of my new herb bed, you can see a scraggly sage bush that I transplanted last fall. I didn’t ask for any of the other plants in the photo, and so they are weeds. By planting cilantro in this space, I will eventually cast shade onto the sage, but only in afternoons; every plant in the herb bed will have direct sunlight until noon.

The herb bed I created last autumn in my small kitchen garden has been doing just fine with all the rain. Unfortunately, I haven’t been particularly clever about the herb bed. While I’ve enjoyed two harvests of tarragon and the thyme and sage are coming on strong, I’ve left the rest of the herb garden untouched. I could have been planting it!

I created the herb bed in a high spot, and I mounded it so it hasn’t held water the way my vegetable bed does. I could have set more perennial herbs in the new bed, and I could have seeded annuals as far back as a month ago!

A Small Kitchen Garden Project

It was rainless and sunny this morning, so my mind sprinted to gardening. When I examined the herb bed, I was impressed at the progress weeds had made. Not a problem; about 60 seconds with a hoe freshened the section I wanted to plant and in about five minutes I had broadcast a small area with cilantro seeds.

In my small kitchen garden there is mud where soil should be. Still, the seeds from last season’s prolific dill plants have sprouted, and there are hundreds of seedlings like the ones in this photo.

To transplant dill seedlings, I selected small clusters in the driest part of my main planting bed. With a hand trowel, I dug two- to three-inches deep, preserving the roots of the dill seedlings inside of cohesive clumps of mud.

Then I turned attention to the highest corner of my vegetable bed. I hoped it might be dry enough to handle some lettuce seedlings. It wasn’t. But as I raked it smooth I noticed a whole bunch of fern-like seedlings: volunteer dill plants!

The muddy, saturated soil had nurtured hundreds of dill plants sprouted from seeds that fell last year. I work around the volunteers when they don’t seriously restrict my planting options. But with the constant rain this year (more than double the average rainfall for spring), I wonder if all I’ll be able to grow reasonably will be volunteers.

An Add-On Gardening Project

Ever the optimist, I thought to salvage some dill plants from the vegetable bed. I may yet plant peas in the main bed along with lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli seedlings that are ever more anxious to escape from their planters.

So, in case real gardening happens this spring, I excavated several soil clumps holding dill seedlings from the main planting bed. These I set into the herb bed alongside the newly-planted cilantro seeds. I rescued only a dozen dill plants, but from past experience, that’s plenty to get my family through the season. And, if the main vegetable bed ever dries out enough to plant, I’m confident more volunteer dill will sprout and rise above whatever vegetables I put in.

For any particular clump of dill seedlings, I dug a hole in my herb bed just a tad larger than the mud clump. In the photo on the left, you can see two of the transplanted dill clumps near the top of the frame, and the clump I’m about to plant just left of the hole and slightly in front of it. I set a mud clump in the hole I dug for it, then gently filled around it with soil from the herb bed. It wouldn’t matter if a little soil got on top of a mud clump, but my goal was to set the top of each clump about even with the soil line of the herb planting bed. With all the moisture and a little care to keep the mud clumps intact along with their dill seedlings, it’s unlikely the seedlings will experience even a hint of transplant shock.

What was Nutmeg, the gardening puppy from hell, doing while I was planting annual herbs? She started her own garden bed. Up against the retaining wall of my vegetable garden, Nutmeg discovered standing water. She quickly excavated all greenery from the area and rolled around in what remained: mud. I’m hoping she’ll expand her garden bed to the south and gnaw away at the mulberry tree that I’ve cut out each of the past 14 years. She’ll have way more fun removing it this year than I will.

 

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Herbs Early in My Small Kitchen Garden

Last year’s rhubarb project continues to look successful. Every plant in the new rhubarb bed has sprouted tiny wrinkly leaves. You’re supposed to harvest lightly in the year after planting. I may pretend that this is the second year after planting since I created the bed at the beginning of last season. I can say with authority: there will be pie.

March in central Pennsylvania is such a great time in my small kitchen garden because that’s when the earliest perennials push through the soil and have a look around. Oh, yeah? Not this year! Nope, we’re having a seriously late start to spring around here, and the early sprouts have been timid at best.

Despite the unseasonable cold and way more rain than my kitchen garden needs, I poked around two days ago to see what has sprung. The late early growth is tantalizing, but I’m not ready yet to start the annuals. I hope your kitchen gardens are farther along. Tell me: do you grow a particular fruit or vegetable that you anticipate above all others? I’d love to hear about it. Please let me know in a comment.

Remarkably similar in color to baby rhubarb leaves, tarragon emerges in my new herb bed. I started this bed last spring to receive rhubarb plants, but I realized it would take enormous energy to complete the bed. So, by late autumn I’d finished the bed and set herbs in it. Tarragon and thyme I’d started from seed last spring have wintered over nicely in the new bed. Just looking at these young sprouts makes plaque collect in my veins; I love to make béarnaise sauce and use it (instead of hollandaise) to smother eggs Benedict. More tarragon probably means more eggs Benedict. I’ll need a bigger belt.

Thyme is particularly hardy in these parts. This sprig, on a plant I started from seed last spring, has already produced abundant leaves despite the low temperatures. I expect to have several decent clumps of thyme within the next few years.

I don’t grow chives in my small kitchen garden; there’s no need. Wild onion is one of the most common “weeds” in this area. When the neighboring farmer mowed his hay field in past years, the air would smell of onions for several days! I created a new herb bed in late autumn last year, planted a few perennial herbs, and this spring there are several volunteer wild onions emerging in the bed. In some places, my lawn is more wild onion than it is grass.

The biggest mess in my new herb garden is a grouping of sage bushes that I removed from an old half barrel I’d planted, perhaps, ten years ago. The barrel stands empty awaiting a new assignment while the sage plants remain dormant. As the days warm (they will warm, right?), I expect plenty of new growth on these usually hardy plants. When I can easily see which sticks are alive, I’ll snap off the deadwood and save it to use in my smoker. Ribs, chicken, brisket, sausage… they all taste delightful when you smoke them with sage wood. Yes, that’s a downspout behind the plants; I may need to add an extender that carries rainwater across the bed so heavy storms won’t carve a hole in the herb garden.

 

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Small Kitchen Garden Volunteers

weedy small kitchen garden

While I wait for frosty cold nights to end in the spring, weeds grow wild in my small kitchen garden… but alongside those weeds: volunteer herbs! Here, a cilantro plant that must have rooted in the fall keeps pace with a thistle plant whose tap root probably reaches nine or more inches into the soil.

As the owner of a small kitchen garden, I have a lot of enthusiasm for volunteers. The volunteers I’m talking about are the ones that sprout in my planting beds in the footprint of last year’s plants: their parents.

Of the plants I grow, the most successful at reproduction are cilantro and dill. Both toss hundreds—maybe even thousands of seeds onto the soil from about mid-summer until early winter… and dozens of those seeds manage to take root in the spring before I get into the garden. Tomatoes also try to procreate, and succeed occasionally when a fruit falls from a plant and I leave it to rot on the mulch. I’ve even had the occasional squash plant emerge from seeds I can only imagine some rodent or bird dropped during a trip from my compost heap.

Hindrance to Planting my Small Kitchen Garden

As much as I love the volunteers (they provide fresh herbs weeks before I’d harvest any from seeds I plant intentionally), they interfere with my gardening. I try to work around them, but invariably I have to excavate huge patches of them to make way for other produce I wish to plant.

Sometimes I transplant some volunteer herb plants, but mostly I try to harvest them before I till. Dehydrated homegrown herbs have so much more fragrance and flavor than commercially-packed herbs. It’s astonishing how much like fresh herbs they smell and taste.

The day I excavated furrows for my tomato plants, I needed to weed out hundreds of volunteer dill plants and dozens of volunteer cilantro plants. Here’s a three-minute video I recorded in the garden as I harvested herbs:


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